Since Arne Duncan became Secretary of Education and unleashed the Race to the Top, almost every state has adopted laws to evaluate teachers by the test scores of their students. Most teachers know that this is unfair because the factors that have the greatest influence on students’ test scores are not within the control of teachers. Reformers tell us that teachers are the most important influence within the school on student scores, and that is right. But the teacher contribution to scores is dwarfed by the influence of family and other out of school factors.
It is also obvious to everyone but the U.S. Department of Education that when testing becomes the determinant of teachers’ evaluation, their reputation, and their careers, the results are predictable: narrowing of the curriculum, teaching to the test, gaming the system, and cheating. None of this improves education. Why would any responsible public official want to promote such behavior?
The eminent mathematician John Ewing, who is the president of Math for America, wrote a concise and slashing attack on the misuse of mathematics in value-added methodology. He writes about how teachers in Los Angeles were bullied by journalists who ranked them and then confronted them with their low scores. The journalists warned that value-added should not rely on a single measure, but they themselves relied on a single measure to create their rankings.
Ewing says that the public is being subjected to “mathematical intimidation” by policymakers and education “experts,” and that mathematicians have a duty to speak out and tell them to stop misusing their field for political ends.